the development of the number of exporting SMEs is often advanced as a panacea to the French economic problems; What is really There are France 3 million enterprises: the majority (1.7 million) consists of individual entrepreneurs; come then 1 million very small enterprises (TPE); SMEs, within the meaning where defined by Insee today (from 10 to 249 persons), are number approximately 200,000; the rest represent big business. These statistics are administrative, based on social reasons recorded by Insee; in reality, the number of independent SMEs in large groups is the order of 100,000.
How these different actors resistant to the crisis A simple indicator of health is the rate of mortality, i.e., the rate of failure. Last year, business failures are increasing by about 20, and progress seems stronger for large businesses (100) for the TPE or SME. This is a frequently observed phenomenon: large companies seem to be more advanced in the economic cycle. More exposed to the international situation, they are the first to enter into recession, but also to emerge. While SMEs and the TPE, based more on the domestic situation, are less affected at the beginning of the crisis; but it will be then more permanently affected, even when GDP and industrial production rise.
The question of the competitiveness of French SMEs is twofold: are they competitive large French enterprises And foreign companies On the first point, SMEs generally have lower productivity than large enterprises, benefiting from economies of scale and of a higher price negotiation power, the purchase and sale. It would appear that the optimum productivity is obtained by companies from 500 to 1,000 people. However, salary costs for SMEs are lower, so that total competitiveness is roughly equivalent to that of large enterprises. On the second point, the external competitiveness of French companies is insufficient, at the rate of current change, against the dollar zone, but also against the European currencies that do not belong to the euro. In the euro area, the French competitiveness is average; It is significantly degraded since 2001 with the Germany. If current conditions persist, it is likely that the last jewels of the French industry will know the same woes than the automobile. It seemed a flagship conqueror until 2004; It is now the source of a very large trade deficit.
SMEs have structurally more difficult and more expensive access to bank credit; Thus, they have a more solid balance sheet structure, with own funds more than large enterprises, and less than debt, i.e. less financial leverage; What has been an asset in this crisis. NET investments in unlisted shares are very supported since 2001, the order of 60 to 80 billion euros per year, against only 10 billion average for quoted shares. Forward, short term interest rates have significantly declined. If well admit that SMEs will never have the capability to construct similar to major groups financial leverage, the main problem of SMEs is not that of funding, but rather that of the request (by volume), "B to C", and power of negotiation of the sale price, for the "B to B".
What are the sectors of the future To simplify, can divide the economy in two major areas: the exposed to international competition (the bulk of the industry and some services) and the protected sector (trade, construction, services de proximité). Given the poor external competitiveness we have mentioned, the advantage is the protected sector. To be a little caricature, one could say that the future today is importing companies, and non-exporting firms. Customs have published an interesting graph on this subject, where clearly diverge numbers of exporting and importing companies since 2003.
Thus, in new technologies, the France enjoys a scientific training of the unusual youth in the world, intimately linked to major programs military, energy and transport of the past. This gives a certain advantage, on the supply side, in the field of industrial design and software. But ongoing de-industrialization is problematic. On the demand side, the French public is very receptive to new technologies. This market is very promising, proximity services... and imports. Contractors, do not listen to the sirens of export, unless special conditions that you would give a global and lasting monopoly on a product. Be resolutely importers!